Official health communications are failing PFAS-contaminated communities
By Alan Ducatman, Jonas LaPier, Rebecca Fuoco & Jamie C. DeWitt
May 10, 2022
Environmental health agencies are critical sources of information for communities affected by chemical contamination. Impacted residents and their healthcare providers often turn to federal and state agency webpages, fact sheets, and other documents to weigh exposure risks and interventions.
This commentary briefly reviews scientific evidence concerning per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for health outcomes that concern members of affected communities and that have compelling or substantial yet differing degree of scientific evidence. It then features official documents in their own language to illustrate communication gaps, as well as divergence from scientific evidence and from best health communication practice. We found official health communications mostly do not distinguish between the needs of heavily contaminated communities characterized by high body burdens and the larger population with ubiquitous but substantially smaller exposures. Most health communications do not distinguish levels of evidence for health outcomes and overemphasize uncertainty, dismissing legitimate reasons for concern in affected communities. Critically, few emphasize helpful approaches to interventions. We also provide examples that can be templates for improvement.
Immediate action should be undertaken to review and improve official health communications intended to inform the public and health providers about the risks of PFAS exposure and guide community and medical decisions.
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